Another good day for Mitt Romney

Now that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s national ambitions are a thing of the past — left behind on the extreme southern stretch of the Appalachian Trail — it’s interesting to think about the number of up-and-coming Republican stars who’ve been taken off the board in the past year. Five (including Sanford) come quickly to mind.

Two — Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — were damaged by their own party, pushed in front of the public long before they were ready. Hype-versus-reality questions aside, Palin and Jindal were routinely described as rising stars until, suddenly, they weren’t.

Jindal can certainly recover from his poor performance in delivering the Republican response to President Obama’s national address last February. All he has to do is not act like a dork the next time. But the arc of Palin’s post-running-mate political career has already been determined: hero to the right wing of her party; pariah to everyone else.

Sanford’s finished. So is Nevada Sen. John Ensign, although at least his sexual indiscretions do not include a secretive flight to Argentina. I must confess I’d barely heard of Ensign before learning that (1) he’d been unfaithful in his marriage and (2) he was a possible presidential candidate.

Finally, there is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, chosen by Obama as his ambassador to China. Huntsman hasn’t been tainted (except possibly in the eyes of a few partisan Republicans), but he’s not going to challenge Obama in 2012.

As Rich Lowry observes at National Review (via Talking Points Memo), Mitt Romney may be the last candidate standing by the time the ’12 campaign rolls around in earnest.

The specter of Specter

As a liberal, I can’t possibly not enjoy the prospect of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter’s joining the Democratic Party and making it easier for President Obama to enact his agenda.

In the long run, though, it’s not good for the country to have one party that’s straight-down-the-line conservative and another that is entirely liberal. A mostly liberal Democratic Party and a mostly conservative Republican Party? Sure. But hard-edged ideological differences are one of the main reasons that politics today is so unrelievedly vicious.

Looks like the last holdouts are Maine’s Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Bye, bye Daschle?

Prediction: Tom Daschle will not be confirmed as secretary of health and human services. There’s a sleaziness to Daschle’s tax problems that’s absent from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s, which just seem boneheaded.

The little man at the podium

.msnbcLinks {font-size:11px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: #999; margin-top: 5px; background: transparent; text-align: center; width: 425px;} .msnbcLinks a {text-decoration:none !important; border-bottom: 1px dotted #999 !important; font-weight:normal !important; height: 13px;} .msnbcLinks a:link, .msnbcLinks a:visited {color: #5799db !important;} .msnbcLinks a:hover, .msnbcLinks a:active {color:#CC0000 !important;}

Admit it: You didn’t watch President Bush’s farewell address. Well, I did. In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at his short, half-hearted effort at vindication and conclude that the real message is we no longer need fear the little man at the podium.

The Warren invitation: Wise, clever or neither?

.msnbcLinks {font-size:11px; font-family:Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: #999; margin-top: 5px; background: transparent; text-align: center; width: 425px;} .msnbcLinks a {text-decoration:none !important; border-bottom: 1px dotted #999 !important; font-weight:normal !important; height: 13px;} .msnbcLinks a:link, .msnbcLinks a:visited {color: #5799db !important;} .msnbcLinks a:hover, .msnbcLinks a:active {color:#CC0000 !important;}

I thought we’d begin this morning with Rachel Maddow’s scorching commentary about President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ask the Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the invocation on Inauguration Day. It’s long, but some righteous anger is called for, as Obama — like so many politicians before him — has chosen to make gay and lesbian Americans the targets of his desire for political expedience.

Here’s part of what U.S. Rep. Barney Frank has to say:

Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage. But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause.

Obama shouldn’t have invited Warren. That said, there are some layers and complexities to this that are worth thinking about. In an open letter to Obama, the Human Rights Campaign asserts: “Rev. Warren cannot name a single theological issue that he and vehemently, anti-gay theologian James Dobson disagree on.” And, indeed, Warren was a leader in the fight to pass the loathsome Proposition 8 in California.

But to assert that Warren, therefore, is no different from Dobson is to overlook some inconvenient facts. Obama himself opposes same-sex marriage, though, to his credit, he also opposed Proposition 8. We can’t know what Obama is thinking beyond what he tells us. But I suspect his religious view of the world is rather more conservative than that of your typical secular liberal. In any case, I imagine that most of the very few evangelicals who voted for Obama hold Warren in higher esteem than Dobson, who isn’t just a hate-monger, but who’s genuinely weird.

What makes Warren interesting is that he may be on a journey of his own. (Or he may be talking out of both sides of his mouth. Or he may just be confused.) Earlier this week, Beliefnet.com posted an interview with Warren whose lowlights have gotten a lot of attention — that is, he compares same-sex marriage to pedophila and incest. Ugh.

Yet, at the beginning of the interview, when Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman asks Warren whether divorce or gay marriage “is a greater threat to the American family,” Warren calls the answer a “no-brainer” and says “divorce, no doubt about it.” And, as Waldman notes in the blog entry accompanying the interview, Warren appears to endorse civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, a stance for which a lesser-known evangelical leader just got cast out into wilderness.

But wait. As you’ll see, having seemed to stake out reasonably progressive ground, Warren backtracked (or clarified; take your pick), writing to Waldman that he meant no such thing:

I now see you asked about civil UNIONS -and I responded by talking about civil RIGHTS. Sorry. They are two different issues. No American should ever be discriminated against because of their beliefs. Period. But a civil union is not a civil right.

It gets worse.

Still, I’m reminded of something the late Molly Ivins once said about Ross Perot: “He’s the best right-wing populist billionaire we’ve got in Texas, so if you don’t like him, you’re out of luck.” Warren may be the best conservative evangelical minister we’ve got. So, on a certain level, it makes sense for Obama to have a relationship with Warren, who, as we’ve been told over and over, is fairly progressive on issues such as global warming, poverty and AIDS.

But you can see where this goes, can’t you? All I’m doing here is discussing the politics of it — that is, I’m taking the line that perhaps it makes sense for Obama to disappoint his gay and lesbian supporters and their allies momentarily in order to reach out to an evangelical leader, and perhaps even to push him to the center (or at least to less hurtful rhetoric) on cultural issues. Fine.

And, actually, no, it’s not fine. The problem is that it’s hard to make the case that Obama is taking a principled stand. The danger is that Obama’s outreach to Warren will be seen not as a wise move, but merely as a clever one. If Warren genuinely evolves over time, we may look back at this moment as an example of Obama’s wisdom.

If not, then it will only stand out as a moment that Obama outsmarted himself, and let down some of his most ardent supporters.

Warren photo (cc) by Kevin Cheng and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Questions raised in the passive voice (III)

While the New York Times offers lazy speculation, the Washington Post’s Eli Saslow reports facts:

Long before federal prosecutors charged Blagojevich with bribery this week, Obama had worked to distance himself from his home-state governor. The two men have not talked for more than a year, colleagues said, save for a requisite handshake at a funeral or public event. Blagojevich rarely campaigned for Obama and never stumped with him. The governor arrived late at the Democratic convention and skipped Obama’s victory-night celebration at Chicago’s Grant Park.

Obama’s political mentor, Abner Mikva: “You don’t get through Chicago like Barack Obama did unless you know how to avoid people like that.”

Questions raised in the passive voice (II)

Michael Tomasky nails it in the Guardian:

So there are still some things that we legitimately have a right to know the answers to. To me, they boil down to these three:

  1. What were the contacts between the Obama camp and the Blago camp on the senate seat issue?
  2. Did the Blago camp say anything that sounded potentially illegal?
  3. If “yes” on 2, did the Obama people go to law enforcement?

That’s it. Everything else is mush — the kind of nonsense journalism too often gets into about “perceptions” and “a culture” that just tar people with broad brushes. Journalism often operates only at the level of ridiculously simplistic extremes. If something isn’t completely “put behind” a person, then by cracky it must be a “scandal.” But there are a lot of things that are neither and occupy the gray space in between the poles.

In Salon, Joe Conason warns of a possible return to the Clinton era, when “the right-wing propaganda machine and their enablers in the mainstream media” spent years trying to bring down Bill Clinton. Their efforts would have fizzled entirely if Monica Lewinsky hadn’t come along late in the game.

Thinking about public pensions

The Boston Globe’s Todd Wallack reports today that investment losses suffered by government pension funds will force even more draconian cuts in local services than had already been anticipated.

Let me speak out of ignorance for a moment. It’s OK, because mainly I’m advocating that we start asking some tough questions. I have no answers.

Haven’t most private-sector businesses and non-profit organizations phased out pensions in favor of 401(k) and 403(b) accounts? Isn’t governmental employment the last redoubt of pensions?

I’m sure there’s nothing we can do about pensions owed to current retirees. But isn’t it time to take a hard look at whether we should keep paying a benefit to public employees that very few of us in the private sector enjoy? Lord knows I want to tear my hair out when I read about a former elected official receiving a big pension. Let them plan for their retirement like everyone else.

Obviously there are some special circumstances that need to be considered. There are good reasons to offer early-retirement incentives to police officers and firefighters, for instance — you don’t want 57-year-olds putting their health at risk every time they go out on a call.

But other than unusual cases like that, it’s time to get serious.

How the right went wrong

Brilliant essay in the Wall Street Journal on how conservatives squandered their authority by embracing know-nothing populism — culminating in their fatal embrace of Sarah Palin. Mark Lilla says of the right’s anti-intellectual intellectuals:

They mock the advice of Nobel Prize-winning economists and praise the financial acumen of plumbers and builders. They ridicule ambassadors and diplomats while promoting jingoistic journalists who have never lived abroad and speak no foreign languages. And with the rise of shock radio and television, they have found a large, popular audience that eagerly absorbs their contempt for intellectual elites. They hoped to shape that audience, but the truth is that their audience has now shaped them.

You should definitely read the whole thing. (Via Hub Blog.)

Really, folks, the campaign’s over

Maybe it’s because I have no memory, but I can’t recall a time when there has been this much speculation right after a presidential election concerning who might run in four years. No doubt we can expect Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney to form exploratory committees any minute now.

And we’re already down to people I’ve never heard of.

I suspect it’s a consequence of the expansion of the political press (the aforementioned item is from the Politico, which really does have nothing better to do) and the intense interest in politics generated by an unusually dramatic campaign.